A Cumberland rugby league star, who became a Salford stalwart for over half a century, has died at the age of 85.
Les Bettinson hailed from Millom where he first played rugby for the local union club in his early 20’s.
A classy centre, he attracted the attention of Gus Risman whilst he was leading Workington Town to their glory days, in the early 50s, but never signed for the west Cumbrians.
However, on his appointment as Salford manager, he promptly secured Les’s signature with his debut coming against Batley, on March 9 1957.
Les’s dedication to the club he had joined was exemplified in an outstanding run of 81 consecutive matches, which began at the start of the 1962/3 season and ran right through that, and the following season, to eventually come to a halt at the start of the 1964/5 season.
In total, he turned out on 375 occasions, with a further two as a substitute, over his 12-year playing career with Salford, during which time he crossed for 75 tries, and kicked ten goals, for a total of 245 points.
He was picked for Cumberland seven times, the first of which came a mere six months after he joined Salford, to face Yorkshire, at The Boulevard, Hull.
Cumberland were County Champions in both 1965/6 and 1966/7, and Les was involved in both of these outstanding successes.
His testimonial season came in 1966/7, when he received a rugby league record amount of £2,500, and he celebrated by becoming Salford’s top try scorer.
Away from the game, he became a popular and respected schoolteacher in Marple.
He moved into coaching as assistant to Cliff Evans before taking over in December 1973, and enjoyed a hugely successful three-year period in a golden era for the Salford club in which their all-star team were champions in 1974 and 1976, in addition to winning the BBC Floodlit Trophy.
He then joined the Salford board, and represented the club on the Rugby League Council, which led to his election as president – and he was also chair of the RL Coaching Committee.
As manager of the 1988 Lions, he worked closely with the coach Malcolm Reilly, with their efforts culminating in the famous Third Test victory at Sydney.
His own personal insights into the game he held so dear, came in the form of two books, of which he was author: ‘The Rugby league Coach’ (1986), and ‘In The Lions’ Den’ (1991).
Long after he stepped down from the board of directors in 1991, after 34 years of involvement, he was a regular attender at Salford’s home games for at least another 15 years before ill health laid him low.
For the last 11 years of his life he had been suffering, along with his wife Frances, with dementia.
Ralph Rimmer, chief executive of the RFL, said: “Les Bettinson gave outstanding service to the Salford club as a player, coach and director, and was admired throughout the game as a fine player, and also a gentleman.
“As a former RFL president and Great Britain manager, he contributed so much to the sport. On behalf of the RFL, sincere condolences to his family and many friends.”